Sunday, February 7, 2016
Well, it’s February 7 – more than a month since New Year’s. How are you all doing on your New Year’s Resolutions? It’s time for confession – I’m doing terribly with mine. I had resolved to get serious about losing the baby weight by cutting way back on sugary desserts and exercising regularly. But just the other day Pastor Rich baked such delicious gooey fudgy brownies. And it’s Super Bowl Sunday tonight – with lots of junk food on the menu. And it’s hard to get up, workout, get ready and get a baby fed, dressed and to daycare every day! So, I’m failing at doing all I’d like to do to take care of myself better physically. If I’m honest with myself, and with God, I fail to do a lot of things that I should or ought pretty much daily. Sometimes I don’t spend time in prayer or in scripture study like I’d like to or should. I don’t behave in ways that you’d expect a pastor to behave all the time, believe it or not. I know I need to change, but change is hard, and sometimes I can’t, or just won’t, change like I know God wants me to.
The story of failed New Year’s resolutions and just plain disappointing God as well as our selves and others is as old as Adam and Eve. Scripture calls this phenomenon “sin.” Our first reading today from Exodus continues the old old story of people sinning against God and against each other, but it needs a little more explanation beyond the short passage we heard. You might remember that the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness for forty years after leaving slavery in Egypt. They’re on their way to the Promised Land, but the group is so huge and they’re in the wilderness for so long that God decides that the people need some basic rules to live by for guidance. So, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments on the top of Mount Sinai. But Moses doesn’t even have a chance to share those commands from God with the rest of the Israelites because when he comes down the mountain, he discovers his brother Aaron has convinced them to make a golden calf and worship it instead. Moses is so angry he breaks the two tablets holding the Ten Commandments and grinds the golden calf into a powder that he forces the Israelites to drink. This is way worse than failing to keep a New Year’s Resolution – the Israelites have betrayed Moses by failing to trust his leadership as someone who communicating directly with God. They have sinned against God. They’ve completely ignored all that God has done for them in leading them safely out of Egypt and feeding them with manna, quail, and water in the desert. Instead, they chose to worship an inanimate object. Moses, and God, for that matter, are understandably beyond disappointed and angry. If you read the full story in Exodus 32-34, several thousand of the Israelites even die because of their sin. Sin does have consequences!
But Moses and God even in their anger do not give up on the Israelites. Moses prays for God to have mercy on the people, and God listens. God tells Moses to go up to Mount Sinai again. On the mountaintop, Moses receives a new set of tablets with the Ten Commandments, and Moses brings them down the mountain again for the people. God also gives Moses something else so that the Israelites will know that he speaks for God – when Moses comes down the mountain his face is shining. Every time from then on when Moses speaks with God, his face shines so the people know they can trust Moses’ words. God gives the Israelites a second chance, and what’s more, God gives the Israelites an additional sign that God will continue to journey with them and guide them to the Promised Land – God will keep his promise to his people, even if they don’t.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last day of Epiphany before we move into the season of Lent starting with Ash Wednesday this coming week. When’s the last time you used the word “transfiguration”? Probably not recently, I’m guessing. This can be a confusing holiday to explain, especially to people less familiar with the scriptures or with the church year. To put it simply, transfiguration is a reminder that we have a God not just of second chances, but a God who gives us many, many, many chances. It’s about a God who is willing to change for us so that we can be changed to be the people God wants us to be. This transfiguration story is part of the central story of the Christian faith, that since the beginning of time, we’ve messed up. We have sinned and fallen short of what God has intended for us. Like those Israelites, we set out with good intentions to follow and obey God all the way to the Promised Land. But time and time again, we fail. We get stuck. Forces inside and outside of ourselves vie for our attention and take us away from God. But God, always merciful and ready to forgive, continues to keep his promises to us. God continues to send us reminders that God is with us always. The Israelites were reminded of God’s ever-present mercy with those two stone tablets and Moses’ shining face. God gave Peter, James, and John a glimpse of his glory on the mountaintop, with a voice reminding them, “This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him!” as Jesus shines. God continues to send us signs of his forgiveness even today – have you experienced this yourself? What signs come to mind for you?
The truth is, without God’s help, we could never change. God gives us the courage and strength to start each day anew, as we seek to follow Jesus more closely. These stories that we hear from scripture, from Adam and Eve to Peter and the rest of the disciples in our gospel today remind us of who we are: human beings who are not only less than perfect, we’re downright evil and sinful at times. We fail to do what we know is right, and sometimes we just downright don’t get God’s larger purpose. God knows who we are through and through. God knows our character and knows we can’t measure up.
Jesus’ transfiguration reveals who God’s character is to us. God’s character is perfect goodness. God’s character is ever-forgiving, ever-merciful, ever loving toward all of creation, even though God knows we’ll continue to mess up and disappoint. The Israelites got a glimpse of who God is in Moses’ face. In Jesus, we see the fullness of God and who God is, face to face. In Jesus we receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of life with God eternally. God continues to show up for us to remind us of that – in ordinary water that we use for the extraordinary occasion of baptism. In ordinary bread and wine that we use for the extraordinary occasion of Holy Communion. In ordinary sunlight shining through ordinary glass just so to make us stop, catch our breath, and pay attention. God knows that we will continue to struggle with sin, personally and as a society. That’s part of what it means to be human. But as we go down the mountaintop with Jesus and enter into the season of Lent, God sends us the sign of a seemingly ordinary human being going to extraordinary measures to die on a cross for us. Because of Jesus, we are changed – forever. Our faces may not shine like Moses,’ but how might others know we’ve been changed? We may still not keep every New Year’s Resolution. Lent gives us another opportunity to give something up or try something new… but more importantly than our ability to change is to share the good news of what Jesus has done for us and to point out those signs to others. Like the Israelites, like Moses, like the disciples, may you see glimpses of God’s ever-present mercy meeting you in your daily struggles. Amen.